One of the benefits of playing in six fantasy baseball leagues is that tough draft day decisions aren't quite as tough. Can't decide between Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Abreu? No problem. Draft Encarnacion in one league and Abreu in another. Although there are a handful of players that reside on three or four of my six rosters, I do try to incorporate this "spread the risk" approach when possible, when the decision is so close that I might as well keep things interesting by owning both players in at least one league.
Unfortunately, there will always be a few guys who you wanted to own in at least one league but miss out on drafting. Maybe your competition valued them a bit higher than you did. Maybe you were focused on filling a different position at that stage of the draft. Whatever the reason, it's frustrating. And it can become even more frustrating if the player gets off to a fast start. So, from a personal standpoint, who are some of the players that fit this description?
Brandon Belt - Now in his sixth big league season, Belt has yet to live up to expectations. He was supposed to be a consistent, high AVG hitter with 30-home run upside. But he has yet to hit more than 18 homers in a season and sports a rather ordinary .272 career batting average. Still, Belt is only 27 years of age, so I figured that it could pay off to take a chance on him now that his price tag would no longer be heavily inflated by the "potential" factor. As it turned out, Belt did not come at much of a discount, especially in OBP leagues, so I passed. Through 11 games, the Giants first baseman is batting .300 with three homers, seven RBIs and six runs scored.
Christian Yelich - Yelich's across-the-board contributions translate quite well to the fantasy game, and he's especially appealing in OBP formats (career .369 OBP). Oh, and he's still only 24. My master plan was to draft Yelich in as many leagues as possible, but due to a combination of cost, categorical needs and positional needs, it just didn't work out. And that's too bad, because through eight games, the Marlins left fielder is 12-for-28 with seven walks (.429 AVG, .541 OBP), a homer and a steal.
Jonathan Schoop - Schoop's 2015 power display of 15 homers in only 305 at-bats was plenty encouraging, so encouraging that the Orioles second baseman headed into this season as a viable mid-round selection in mixed league drafts. How many home runs could Schoop hit with a full season of everyday at-bats? I was willing to pay up to find out, but as I assembled my various squads, I came to the conclusion that Schoop's skill set didn't fit in with the rest of the roster, and I wasn't about to draft him just for the sake of drafting him. Maybe I should have. Following Friday night's two-homer game, he now has three home runs and eight RBIs to go along with a .314 batting average through ten games.
Felix Hernandez - Throughout the winter months, Hernandez headed my list of proven aces who could be drafted at a discount. King Felix was coming off what was perceived as a disappointing season, even though 95 percent of starting pitchers would gladly take a 3.53 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in a down year. After selecting him in the sixth round of the annual MLB.com mock draft, I was convinced that Hernandez would be a member of many of my real teams. But the more I read about the decreased velocity and the possibility that all of the innings would finally catch up to him, the more wary I became. And when it was made clear in drafts that the market was still valuing him as a bona fide ace, I opted to go in a different direction. My punishment for not trusting my own instincts? How about a 1.00 ERA through three starts with 20 strikeouts across 18 innings?
Ian Kennedy - This season, for the first time in modern history, I did not draft Kennedy in any league. The strikeouts were tempting, but I was fed up with the inconsistency, and moving from the NL to the AL, especially Petco Park to the AL, can't be a good thing for any pitcher, right? Wrong. Two starts, two wins, 13 2/3 innings, one run, 14 strikeouts. The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of Kennedy playing for the Royals, a fly ball pitcher supported by an elite defense and making half of his starts in a ballpark that limits home runs. Maybe avoiding Kennedy was a mistake, and I had so many opportunities to draft him. This decision could haunt me for six months.
But then something strange happened. The Kennedy owner in one of my leagues dropped him last week.
I successfully claimed him off waivers last night.
We tell fantasy baseball owners not to even look at the standings until May. We tell them not to overreact when one of their key players gets off to an ice cold start to the season. The advice part is easy. The more challenging part for us fantasy industry people is to practice what we preach. I look at the standings every day in April, but avoiding the temptation to overreact has gotten easier with experience. After all, this is my 16th full season of playing this game based upon a game. By now, I should know better. At one time, I surely would have been freaking out about the early performance of the following players who I own in at least one league. Not anymore.
Chris Archer - The 17 strikeouts in 10 innings are nice, but Archer's late-season fade last year seems to have carried over into 2016. Command has been an issue and he's simply throwing way too many pitches per inning. But I'm not concerned yet. Fatigue could explain Archer's September struggles last season, and the schedule hasn't been kind to him so far this year as he has faced the Blue Jays and Orioles, two of the top offenses in the American League. The bad news is that he's scheduled to pitch against both teams again within the next few weeks, but perhaps by then he will have figured things out, and Tampa Bay's schedule will be less AL East heavy in May.
Justin Upton - This is a little surprising as Upton has historically been a fast starter. Not this year, as he's 4-for-19 with no homers, no RBIs, one run scored and eight strikeouts over his first four games as a Tiger. But Upton is a notoriously streaky player and if this 4-for-19 stretch came in the middle of June, we wouldn't even notice it. For Rotisserie owners, the end of season stat line is what matters, and in that respect, Upton is about as consistent as they come.
Curtis Granderson - Expecting a repeat of his 2015 season might be expecting too much from Granderson, but fantasy owners of the Mets outfielder can't be too pleased with what they have seen thus far, one hit in 13 at-bats. Relax. Granderson is another streaky hitter, and this sample size is minuscule. Expect 20-plus homers and 85-plus runs and you won't be disappointed.
Miguel Sano - After launching 18 homers to go along with 52 RBIs and 46 runs scored in his 80-game rookie campaign last year, Sano carried a hefty price tag in drafts this spring. Through four games, that hefty price tag has produced no homers, no RBIs, no runs scored and seven strikeouts. The high strikeout rate is here to stay, but owners won't care about the strikeouts if they come along with 30-plus homers, and Sano's minor league numbers indicate that he's unlikely to be a batting average drain. Don't even think about selling low.
Pedro Alvarez - Alvarez was my guy this year. Immediately following his signing with the Orioles, I made the decision to draft him in as many leagues as possible, fully convinced that he can be the 2016 version of the 2014 Nelson Cruz, joining Baltimore on a one-year deal and taking full advantage of a cozy home ballpark. Maybe the batting average wouldn't be pretty, but Alvarez hit a combined 66 home runs from 2012-2013 and tallied 27 homers last year in what was considered a down season. Drafting Pedro for seven bucks in Mixed Auction Tout Wars was one of my best purchases. Or so I thought. Through four games, Alvarez is hitless, and I'm starting to wonder why the Pirates were so quick to release him over the winter.
At one time, I surely would have been freaking out about the early performance of Alvarez.
OK, I'm kind of freaking out.
If you're looking for my thoughts on the Mixed Auction Tout Wars squad I assembled last Saturday, you're in the wrong place. For that, click here.
So, what else is there to talk about? Plenty. How about the other 14 rosters? Nah, that would take too long, and the discussion would be all over the place, and I prefer to read articles with more focused themes. I suspect that you feel the same way.
So, how about we look at some of the players who were purchased for dirt cheap, as in five bucks or less, at the auction but really deserved a little more respect.
Yan Gomes ($5 by Nando DiFino) - Sure, there's some injury risk here, but Gomes has launched a combined 33 homers over the past two seasons in 230 combined games. For five bucks, he's a steal. Interestingly enough, Nando went with the medium risk/high reward backstop duo of Gomes and Devin Mesoraco, another guy who is coming off an injury-marred 2015 season but could easily outperform his $7 price tag.
Matt Holliday ($4 by Ray Flowers) - Keep in mind that Tout Wars uses OBP instead of AVG, which certainly enhances Holliday's value (career .386 OBP). The accomplished 36-year-old was limited to 73 games last season due to injury, and his grand total of four home runs is somewhat concerning. But he doesn't need to do much in 2016 to justify the four bucks. Even 120 games, 15 home runs and his trademark exceptional OBP will suit Ray just fine. Plus, the Cardinals plan on giving Holliday some time at first base, which should help to keep him as fresh as possible.
Kendrys Morales ($4 by Joe Pisapia) - I do it, many owners do it, but maybe significantly downgrading Utility-only players is a mistake. After all, there is an open lineup spot for designated hitters, and their stats count the same as those of position players. They are also safer bets to stay healthy. Four bucks for a veteran hitter coming off a .290-22-106 campaign? I'm still trying to figure out why I didn't participate in the Morales bidding.
Nick Castellanos ($3 by Al Melchior) - Considering the growing hype surrounding Castellanos heading into this season, I was shocked that he went for this little. While it's true that the Tigers third sacker has yet to make his mark in the big leagues, he's still just 24 years of age and is fresh off a solid .269-9-35 second half last season. For the measly price of $3, Castellanos offers a great deal of profit potential.
Alex Rodriguez ($2 by Ray Flowers) - It's that Ray Flowers guy again! As if Matt Holliday for $4 wasn't enough, Ray also managed to grab A-Rod for a mere two bucks. This is the same A-Rod who slugged 33 homers to go along with 86 RBIs and a .356 OBP last year. Apparently, the same Utility-only stigma that deflated the price of Kendrys Morales was in play with Rodriguez, and Flowers took full advantage.
At this point, it might be tough to respect A-Rod the person. But A-Rod the fantasy player still has something left.
As fantasy baseball owners, we all want our teams to start the season strong. After all, success in April provides instant gratification, instant positive feedback with respect to our draft day performance. But to tell you the truth, I've rarely been in a league where the team that occupied first place at the end of April went on to win the whole thing. Coming off a Tout Wars season in which I resided in first place every day from late-April until late-July before finishing in fourth place, I'm at the point where I'd actually rather not get off to a fast start. The pressure of holding onto a lead for such a long period of time is something that I'd rather not experience again. Middle of the pack after one month would suit me just fine.
Out of curiosity, I figured I'd look at last season's April hitting leaders in the five standard rotisserie categories. For the purposes of this exercise, I'm using Hits instead of AVG. Fantasy teams that included all or most of these guys must have been doing quite well in the early going, but this doesn't mean that they finished the year near the top of the standings, even the hitting standings.
Dee Gordon (38) - Even after his breakout 2014 campaign with the Dodgers, Gordon had his doubters. Would he be able to maintain his across-the-board improvement or would he return to being strictly a stolen base specialist? Gordon answered his critics by batting a career-high .333 with a .359 OBP and coming very close to matching his runs and stolen base totals from 2014. Now, he's widely viewed as at worst the #2 fantasy second baseman, behind only Jose Altuve.
Nelson Cruz/Hanley Ramirez (10) - I wasn't the only owner who avoided Cruz in drafts last season, fully convinced that he would fall well short of matching his 2014 stat line. As it turned out, he was even more productive in 2015, launching a career-best 44 homers while posting his highest batting average (.302) since 2010. In hindsight, of course, owners who chose to "sell high" on Cruz early in the season did not choose wisely.
Nelson Cruz/Hanley Ramirez (22) - Same duo as above, so we will focus on Hanley here. I wanted no part of Ramirez at this time last year. Injuries had limited the former fantasy first-rounder to a combined 214 games from 2013-2014 and I anticipated that his name value would inflate his draft day price to an unreasonable level. Through April, I clearly wasn't looking too good, but in the end, staying away from Hanley proved to be the right move. Ramirez would hit a combined nine homers to go along with 31 RBI from the beginning of May through the end of the season, along the way missing a significant amount of time due to injury.
Matt Carpenter/Wil Myers (21) - Although it is highly unlikely that Carpenter will approach last season's home run total of 28, he's now averaged 109 runs per season from 2013-2015, and his knack for getting on base at a high rate (career .375 OBP) should enable him to once again rank among the league leaders in the category in 2016. As for Myers, his impressive April represented the highlight of his 2015 season. The former AL Rookie of the Year has been a popular middle to late round pick in drafts this spring, and owners who take a chance on him could very well be rewarded if only he can stay healthy. Myers has yet to play more than 88 games in a season.
Billy Hamilton (13) - You know what you're getting with Hamilton, speed and little else. If you're into that sort of thing, by all means go ahead and spend an early-round pick on him (NFBC ADP: 85). I'd rather fill my speed need by drafting several 20-plus SB players who can also contribute in some of the other categories.
So in total, four out of these six players managed to parlay their hot starts last year into highly productive seasons. And yes, we'll include Hamilton in this group because he did what he was supposed to do, trailing only Dee Gordon in swipes.
Four out of six. Better than I thought.
Actually, I wouldn't mind getting off to a fast start.
After 22 days and 10 hours, it was over. Late on Thursday night, my 50-round NFBC slow draft finally reached its end, and my focus immediately shifted to the Tout Wars Mixed Auction draft to be held this coming Saturday. As I've mentioned before, I like to use the NFBC Draft Champions draft as a preparation tool for my other drafts, most notably Tout, since both leagues are of the 15-team Mixed variety.
Although Tout is an auction, as opposed to a snake draft, at least I can get a feel for the depth of the player pool at each of the positions. However, there is a downside to participating in a snake draft before an auction, as it is entirely possible to purchase the exact same team that you drafted in the snake format. Unlikely, but possible. And this sort of overlapping is something I try to avoid if I can. Sure, there are always exceptions. There are always a handful of "my guys", players who I draft in two, three, or even four leagues. But what fun is that? Drafting the same players over and over again could lead to a dominant overall fantasy season but it could also lead to a rather depressing six-month experience. So, here are a handful of players who reside on my NFBC roster but are unlikely to find a home on my Tout Wars squad, for various reasons.
Adam Jones - Barring something crazy happening, I will not be investing in Jones next weekend, the main reason for this being that Tout is an OBP league. While Jones sports a solid .278 career batting average, his career OBP is a pedestrian .319, and he hasn't posted an OBP above .318 since 2012. The Orioles centerfielder could very well bounce back from what was a somewhat disappointing 2015 campaign, but in an OBP auction league, I'd sooner select one of the other outfielders in his tier.
Ketel Marte - There was a time when only Todd Zola was talking about Marte. Fortunately, I was able to draft him within that window. Now, the Mariners shortstop is included in every article on top sleepers to the point where he's no longer a sleeper. In fact, we may have reached the point where he's being overvalued. Note that Marte has only 57 games of big league experience. By no means will I be avoiding him at the auction table, but I have a strong feeling that his price will exceed my comfort zone.
Chase Headley - I waited too long to address the third base position in the NFBC draft, so I got stuck with this guy. That will not happen again. Aside from his MVP caliber 2012 season, Headley has turned in mediocre offensive numbers. When he's your starting third baseman in a mixed league, you know that something went wrong.
Gio Gonzalez - Gio has been a longtime favorite of mine, and drafting him this year for what will likely be a modest price could net a nice profit. That said, Gonzalez is coming off a 2015 season in which he posted his highest hit rate since 2009, and his lack of pitch count efficiency hurts him in the Wins department. He lasted more than six innings in just nine of his 31 starts in 2015. I'll probably draft him in multiple leagues anyway, as his low cost will be too tempting to ignore. But I'm not so sure that Tout will be one of those leagues. I guess it will all depend on price.
Anibal Sanchez - Like Gio, Anibal has been a member of many of my fantasy teams over the years, as you can probably tell from the first name references. Unfortunately, this is not the same Anibal as the one who registered a 2.57 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 202 strikeouts back in 2013. This is an older and more brittle Anibal. This is an Anibal who missed time last season due to a shoulder injury and has already dealt with multiple ailments this spring. On the other hand, this is an Anibal who will likely be available for a price no greater than five bucks.
This is an Anibal who I might end up drafting after all.